Ecklesville's Beloved Librarian

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Write about someone going to extreme lengths to return an overdue library book.... view prompt

63 comments

Fiction Funny

In her final moments of existence, just milliseconds before “Biographies, N-S” snuffs out her life forever, Librarian Boughton manages one final cry.


“Murder!”


Her two assistants, slogging through the daily shelving over in Fiction, look at each other.


“Did you hear something?” asks Matt.


Emma glances over her shoulder toward “Biographies”.


“I don’t think so. It was probably just the construction.”


Matt slides two books into their proper spaces before saying, “Should we go see? Just to make sure?”


“She doesn’t like anyone in Biographies. You know she’s got a thing about curating that herself.”


Matt puts another book on the shelf.


“Even so, I think we better see. I thought I heard a scream.”


“Ummm...yeah, ok. But let’s finish this cart first. I don’t want to stay late again tomorrow. You know she’ll make us if we fall behind.” 



Ten minutes later, they are standing over Librarian Boughton’s body. Spindly legs and clunky shoes stick out from a mountain of books and shelves, reminding Emma of the Wicked Witch of the West after being smashed by the house. She glances at Matt who is staring at the scene with cheeks reddening in a way that tells Emma he is thinking the same thing and trying hard to keep a solemn face.

He nudges the librarian’s foot with his and they both hold their breaths, awaiting a groan or a stir which never comes.


“Do you think she’s…..gone?” Matt whispers.


Emma dials 9-1-1 and shrugs.


“I don’t know. But I don’t think we have to worry about finishing the shelving today.”



Librarian Boughton is indeed gone, as Matt has put it and it isn’t long before news vans and reporters pull into the library’s parking lot. 


“They called her The Little Librarian Who Could,” says one reporter, speaking into her microphone. “Thirty years ago, she appeared in Ecklesville - like magic, local residents say. No one knew where she came from or even her first name. She marched into the Ecklesville Public Library, which was on the verge of closing and turned it around.”


“Like magic? Who says that?” Emma whispers as she and Matt watch the reporter amid a crowd of onlookers.


“Boughton gained national fame in 2004 when the Guinness Book of World Records named her the world’s only librarian who had never had an overdue book. The New York Times profiled her in their Disappearing Libraries series in 2004,” the reporter continues, holding up a copy of the paper to the camera. “Following the report, she developed a cult-like following. Her image appeared in libraries across the country and she became known for her cat-eye, rhinestone-tipped glasses. She even got her own action figure.” She reads from the old New York Times article “ ‘Overdue? Not on her watch,’ ‘Never late,’ ‘Ecklesville is a small town that always turns in their books in on time.’” she reads. She turns to a short, portly man standing next to her. “We are joined by Ecklesville Mayor, Lawrence Mudge. Mayor, what is the legacy Librarian Boughton has left for Ecklesville?”


Beads of sweat stand out on the mayor’s bald head as he clears his throat and glances over his shoulder at the library.


“Yes, Librarian Boughton. Yes, yes. This town will miss her terribly.” He coughs and his ears turn red. “She left us a gem of a library, yes, she sure did. She raised so much money for the library and was able to bring the latest books and the newest technology. Never a book out of place. No wait lists. Clean and cheerful.”


He speaks quickly and sweat drips down his face, which is turning redder by the minute.


“What’s wrong with him?” Matt whispers.


“He’s lying through his teeth,” Emma hisses. “He knows we all hated her.”


Mayor Mudge shifts and looks over his shoulder again, eyes darting.


“Is everything ok, Mayor?” The reporter asks.


“Ok? Um yes, yes. I just can’t believe that she’s gone.”  


“And the Guinness Record. Librarian Boughton had a perfect record of returns. She never had an overdue book. How is that possible?.”


The mayor’s face turns doughy as he breathes heavily.


“We are a dutiful town that understands the value of turning books in on time.”  


The reporter turns back to the camera.  


“The investigation is underway but police say early signs indicate an accidental death. The funeral will be held on Wednesday. A sorrowful farewell for a town's beloved librarian.”


The town residents watch the reporter speak with stiff smiles pasted upon their faces. As Emma had correctly said, the mayor has not told the entire truth about the town’s love for Librarian Boughton and her perfect record.


He has failed to tell the reporters of the phone calls 24 hours before the due dates. The reedy voice reminding the library patron not to be late. And if you fail to answer? Avoiding the phone does not work because Librarian Boughton will track you down - at the supermarket, on your children’s playground, or even in church and demand you return the book on time….or else. Or else what? Everyone has secrets they keep buried. Some age-old, some from yesterday. But whatever the secret, Librarian Boughton knows. How she knows is a mystery, perhaps some untold ancient mastery passed from one omnipotent librarian to the next. But the how of it does not matter as much as the what to the library patrons of Ecklesville. An overdue book will result in the public release of your most damaging secret. And so, men and women throughout Ecklesville circle dates on their calendars and set alarms on their phones. They assign a designated spot in the home for all library books and refuse to entrust small children with them. Some even lock them in their wall safes. Anxiety levels rise as the due date approaches and these days, most people make sure to return their books before they receive Librarian Boughton’s call. 


You would think that any rational adult would simply stop going to the library and turn to Amazon. But a certain amount of fame has come to that little brick building and, with that fame, a large amount of money. All over the country, Americans find themselves wanting to be a part of this perfect return record and the story of the diminutive steely-lipped librarian with rhinestone-studded glasses. Donations have poured in over the years and continue. As a result, the library is wealthy and has become an oasis this small, middle-of-the road town. It boasts a bright and cozy children’s section, the newest books in the best condition, no wait lists, new technology, a cheery and peaceful place for study and overstuffed chairs where you can curl up and wile away the afternoon reading. The only price to pay is returning your book on time.


That is where Mayor Mudge’s dilemma begins. As a politician, he has many secrets. So many off-the-book, clandestine deals that he isn’t even sure where the line between truth and lie is anymore. He has sworn that Librarian Boughton will never get near his skeletons. Many years ago, it was only a lucky break that shifted him out of construction drudgery and into the political spotlight and he is determined to never go back. And so he resolves to never borrow from the library.


But books have a way of enchanting us and when Mayor Mudge speaks to a class of schoolchildren at the library one day, he can’t take his eyes off a new coffee table book on display: “Great Pastas of Italy.” It has a glossy cover and thick pages filled with photos, stories and recipes of puttanescas and primaveras, tortellinis and raviolis. His stomach rumbles and he runs his hand over the book. It will be fine, he tells himself. He will look at it one night and one night only. He will return it long before its due date.


We all know how these good intentions are short-lived, especially for a politician. Mayor Mudge falls asleep with the book on his bed. When he turns over, it tumbles to the floor. The next day, his cleaning woman sees the book, tossed askew among the Mayor’s pajamas, socks and underwear. Assuming he won’t miss it, she borrows it for her son who is studying Italian culture in his history class. Meanwhile, one thing piles on top of another for Mayor Mudge and he forgets about the book until his phone rings and Librarian Boughton’s thin voice says, “Mayor, you have a book due in 24 hours. I advise you to return it in time.”


A mad scramble through his house, his office and his car turns up nothing. And that is why, in the wee hours of the morning before Librarian Boughton’s evening demise, we see a rotund figure unlocking the back door of the library and sneaking in. He skulks between the stacks and turns his flashlight onto the brackets and bolts holding “Biographies, N-S” in place. He knows, as Emma has pointed out, that Librarian Boughton is possessive of her Biography section and will allow no one else near it as she plumps it up with new volumes. With a few expert turns of the socket, he loosens the bolts on the shelves. He gently pushes them. Satisfied that they will give way with just the right amount of pressure, he steals out of the library. 


**********


Two weeks after Librarian Boughton’s expiration, Mayor Mudge is sleeping well. She is safely interred in Celestial Gardens Cemetery, her death has been declared an accident, Emma is running the Ecklesville Library and the residents are happily paying fines for all their overdue books. Out of the blue, “Great Pastas of Italy” appears on his bookshelf two weeks past its due date and he returns it with a light heart and $4.20 fine.


But that night, as he is snoring and dreaming of mounds of fettuccine alfredo, a wind blows through his room and his eyes snap open. A damp cold fills the house and he rises, shivering to check the closed window. A whine pierces the air and something flies through the room, hitting the wall with a thud. It’s “Great Pastas of Italy.”


“Overdue!” shrieks Librarian Boughton. He covers his ears, paralyzed as lamps fall over and mirrors shatter. “Overdue! Overdue! Overduuueeeeee!!!!!” Her voice is no longer reedy. It is powerful and shrill. As quickly as she comes, she’s gone. Mayor Mudge does not sleep again that night.  


In the morning, the papers blast four-inch headlines in print and on the website reading “Mudge murders beloved librarian”. Below, each one of Mayor Mudge’s past sins and secrets are detailed in long, winding articles. In the lower right hand corner, in a tiny box is another story: “Mudge breaks librarian’s perfect return record.” When questioned later, the newspaper’s publisher says that’s not how the paper went to press and they don’t know what happened.  


But you know. And so I warn you, fellow library patrons - return your books on time. Librarian Boughton is out there somewhere, no longer hemmed in by the physical limitations of this world. She is in the universe now, watching and waiting for overdue books, gathering your secrets and preparing her revenge. Beware.

April 30, 2021 22:38

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63 comments

Frances Reine
15:39 May 01, 2021

You're one for the best clever openings! Lot's of people are talking about this one and it's so true: too great. This is so funny and the pov choice is very well suited for this story. I can imagine this being among all the other popular cautionary tales for kids. And adults ;)

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Kristin Neubauer
16:25 May 01, 2021

Thanks so much, Frances! The opening felt so clear to me....like I could see it unfolding. It was after the opening that I kept getting stuck over and over again. But i made it through, and I'm so glad you liked it!

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09:27 May 01, 2021

Oh, Lord! That first paragraph. That is so beautiful. I could keep reading that. Just too good. And I'm serious. This is the kind of story I would read for days, weeks. Now unto the story. You've created life from this piece. We get to see the strict librarian and our mayor and we get to see how the decisions made by these two characters affected most of the story. I like how the murder brought us closer to the story, really drew us in. This is authentic and so wonderful! I got scared at the end. I'm going to return overdue books. Thank you...

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Kristin Neubauer
14:11 May 01, 2021

Thanks so much, Abigail! Your comment about returning your books made me laugh. I really appreciate your feedback. It surprised me because I just saw this as a silly little story that made me giggle....and I feel buoyed that you saw something a little more in it. I just read the Kafka quote you posted on your bio. Love it - that is so Kafka and there is much truth in it. I'll admit, I do like a light happy story or an inspirational story to balance out the ice-breaking ones Kafka talks about. But he is right, and that quote gives me s...

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A.Dot Ram
04:55 May 02, 2021

Everybody's mentioning the opening, and for good reason. It had me hooked. This is like a word nerd's version of a campfire ghost story. It's entertaining. I did find myself wondering about the narrator, because the narration had a strong voice to it-- something not typically Kristin. A character, I'll say. So i was curious about who it was. I'm imagining someone who grew up in the town, and is now a camp counselor and library science student. Anyway, i liked your description of the pasta book-- all of the clever alliteration, and the very b...

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Kristin Neubauer
16:27 May 02, 2021

Thank you, Anne! I don't know who the narrator is. Just some kind of disembodied voice maybe? It just sort of came out. I liked the open too. I wrote the open at the beginning of the week when I had loads of time and it just kind of flowed out. Then the week suddenly became a blur of other stuff. Next thing I know, it's Friday morning, I'm at work and thinking "there's no way I'll finish this." But I really wanted to finish it so my mind was trying to work out the story (which had gone sideways from what I initially had in mind) whil...

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Jade Young
03:29 May 02, 2021

I love how you took this prompt and turned it into a cautionary ghost tale. A strict librarian so scary she intimidates a whole town into following her rules is the perfect premise to scare people into respecting library etiquette and I'm all for it. I found your pacing really good, and your descriptions even better. I can't decide whether my favourite part was the reporter's interview--which showed just how big of a deal the "no overdue books under any circumstances" rule was--or the incorporation of a whole town instead of just the mayor ...

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Kristin Neubauer
16:23 May 02, 2021

Thank you so much, Jade! I'm glad the story worked for you in so many different places. My process on this one was kind of funny. I'd had the idea mapped out in my head, but when I tried to write it out, it wasn't adding up, was getting very lengthy. So I was constantly like "Ok, that can't work" "that doesn't make sense"..."how can I adjust x, y and z to add up?" I felt all turned around half the time, but I am relieved it all came together!

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Blue Green
14:07 May 01, 2021

Great story, very witty - I love that opening sentence :-)

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Kristin Neubauer
14:50 May 01, 2021

Thank you! I loved your opening sentence too!

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Kanika G
11:48 May 01, 2021

What a lovely, humorous story! I loved your descriptions - steely-lipped, rhinestone-studded, reedy voice- very evocative! A creative story and I'm glad the Mayor finally has to pay for his actions. A great story. Well done!

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Kristin Neubauer
14:41 May 01, 2021

Thanks so much! It was rushed, but a fun one to write. I hope my librarian friend gets a kick out of it!

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H L Mc Quaid
11:13 May 01, 2021

Really fun and amusing story. I loved, "...men and women throughout Ecklesville circle dates on their calendars and set alarms on their phones. They assign a designated spot in the home for all library books and refuse to entrust small children with them." A noticed a few things (in addition to the changing verb tenses, which I'm sure you'll sort when you have time). Thinking a few things in quotes should italicised rather than quoted? “Biographies” and “Biographies, N-S” and “Great Pastas of Italy.” This: "Matt slides two books into th...

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Kristin Neubauer
14:29 May 01, 2021

Thank you so much, Heather! And thanks for those edits - they are all right on. They already approved my story, so I can't go back and fix them here, but I will on the original draft. Even though I was rushing, I had fun writing it. I find myself wanting to balance out my sober stories with silly ones. I think if I could write all of them light and silly I would - that is usually my first inclination - but that would probably get boring. And the Kafka quote on Abigail Airuedomwinya's bio has me thinking I should think a bit deeper from ...

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H L Mc Quaid
14:38 May 01, 2021

Wow, your story was approved quickly! I have the same inclination, left to my own devices I'd write amusing stories every time. I have to commit to writing something darker, more serious. And when I do, I have to write something light again for the next story, a bit of a palette cleanser. Anyway, I'm glad you had fun writing it, I had fun reading it. :)

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Kristin Neubauer
14:53 May 01, 2021

Yes! A palette cleanser - that's a great way to describe it. My dad reads my stories every week and he likes the balance too. He's 85 and a little prone to depression, so I like to send him a light one to balance it all.

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H L Mc Quaid
20:01 May 01, 2021

That's great that he gets to read your work. My parents read my stories too, and in the back of mind I'm thinking, oh they might worry about me after reading some of the darker ones (or more bizarre ones for that matter!)

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Kristin Neubauer
20:12 May 01, 2021

Hah! I get it - I wouldn't let my dad read my horror-esque one, The End. I was disturbed by that one and figured he wouldn't want to know his daughter had that kind of darkness in her. He's been pretty down since my mom died in 2019 and he sort of stopped reading anything after that - except for the newspaper and my stories - so I try to make sure I don't go too serious for too many stories. And I stay away, for now, from any story ideas that involve a husband losing a wife. Maybe someday.

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Yolanda Wu
00:29 May 01, 2021

Oof, this story has got me thinking about my overdue books from primary school. I guess Librarian Boughton is going to come and haunt me. This story was hilarious, and had me smiling right from the start. The way that Emma dismisses the scream, and even when she sees Librarian Boughton dead, she just shrugs and dials 9-1-1. I loved her character in this story. The mayor was certainly suspicious right from his little speech, and I was interested to see how the mystery of the murder would be unravelled. Mayor Mudge certainly got what he deserv...

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Kristin Neubauer
00:54 May 01, 2021

Thank you Yolanda! I wrote most of this story in a couple of hours today. It was tough because what I had laid out in my mind wasn’t really working on paper and I had to keep readjusting as I went along. But I’m glad it worked out in the end - and also glad to see that I have can write a story in one sitting if pushed. A good challenge!

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Yolanda Wu
01:07 May 01, 2021

Yeah! Writing a story in one sitting is certainly a challenge. I wrote my story in one sitting as well, but then went back and added some things in the end to flesh it out more. Don't know if I can do that again next week...

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Kristin Neubauer
01:20 May 01, 2021

You wrote Autumn Rain in one sitting? Amazing! You are so talented!

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Yolanda Wu
01:54 May 01, 2021

Haha, thanks!

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Kristin Neubauer
22:40 Apr 30, 2021

Author's note: I am barely squeaking in under deadline. This is rushed and I haven't read it over so there may be typos, inconsistencies and things that don't make sense. Feel free to point them out. Also, I wrote this originally in the past tense, switch to present halfway through and then went back to fix all the past tenses to present. It's likely I missed something, so that's what happened if a tense doesn't make sense. There was no real inspiration for this other than that a good friend of mine is a reference librarian at the Nati...

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Julie Ward
16:29 May 08, 2021

OMG, Kristin. I couldn't stop giggling. All the way through. The first paragraph is drew me right in-the bored assistants are the icing on the cake. So funny. The news reporters are spot on and the Mayor! Of course he's the culprit and of course he's broken the record with a coffee table book about the pastas of Italy. I may go back to this when I need a laugh. Your writing is smooth, the humor is not overdone and the ghost story fits perfectly. I love that Librarian Boughton wields so much power. And I could not adore her rhinestone-...

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Kristin Neubauer
19:12 May 08, 2021

Thank you so much, Julie! I had so much fun writing it - it was all so silly. I miss seeing you and your stories, but can’t even imagine how busy you must be. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read!

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Alison Brewis
23:03 May 05, 2021

Very witty. And I love the opening.

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Kristin Neubauer
01:05 May 06, 2021

Thank you so much! I had fun with this story - I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

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Felicity Neeley
01:11 May 05, 2021

That was a lot of fun to read!! So clever!!! Thank you so much for sharing this with us!!

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Kristin Neubauer
07:34 May 05, 2021

Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate you letting me know!

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Gracie Farrar
19:40 May 04, 2021

Hello! I really enjoyed your story! I loved the opening. It struck a balance between being uniquely specific, and yet vague enough to keep me guessing what happened. I also loved your descriptions of your characters. I could definitely see Mayor Mudge and Librarian Boughton in my mind while reading this. Having the ghost of an angry librarian throw an overdue book at me in the middle of the night is now one of my worst fears. Thanks!!

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Kristin Neubauer
19:48 May 04, 2021

Hah! A non-Reedsy friend said she still has a book from her college library that she never returned and now she’s worried. Thanks so much for reading and for the kind words!

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Gracie Farrar
22:34 May 04, 2021

No problem! I also have a fair share of those, we'll just have to see what happens!

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Miranda Torres
05:58 May 04, 2021

Your story was very amusing to me! Definitely had a good laugh. Also, the way you started your story was very interesting and made me want to stay and read more. Very interesting how you made this from the writing prompt of returning an overdue library book.

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Kristin Neubauer
10:38 May 04, 2021

Thank you so much, Miranda! I’m glad it made you laugh!

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Jayvon Howard
02:30 May 04, 2021

Wonderful story. You certainly have a strong command with words! I was able to follow along and visualize myself following the Mayor so clearly. Especially love the dedication on behalf of Librarian Boughton! Choosing an after life of guarding libraries and terrorizing it’s patrons. Chefs kiss.

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Kristin Neubauer
10:33 May 04, 2021

Thank you so much! In my original idea, the librarian afterlife took up a much larger part of the story. But it didn’t really work, so I dialed it back. I appreciate your kind words!

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Jayvon Howard
14:50 May 04, 2021

Would LOVE to see that story!

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Jayvon Howard
16:28 May 04, 2021

Would LOVE to see that story!

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Daniel R. Hayes
23:27 May 03, 2021

This was a really fun story Kristin! Every story you write impresses me more and more. I loved the humor you so effortlessly injected here and I thought it worked really well. I also loved how Librarian Boughton came back at the end as a ghost free to roam wherever she wants. I'd better check to see if I have any books to return ;) I could tell that you had a lot of fun writing this story and it shows. You should be super proud of this story. I really enjoyed reading it!! :)

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Kristin Neubauer
00:01 May 04, 2021

Thanks so much, Daniel! I did have fun writing it, if a little rushed. It’s just one of my silly stories, but it seems to be making people smile and that’s always nice to know.

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Daniel R. Hayes
00:09 May 04, 2021

I don't think the story felt rushed at all, I really enjoyed it. It has your unique charm, and it made me smile :) :)

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Charlie Murphy
01:35 May 03, 2021

AWESOME STORY!

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Kristin Neubauer
17:36 May 03, 2021

Thank you!

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Thom Brodkin
23:43 May 02, 2021

This is outstanding. I really did laugh out loud when you referenced the witch from the Wizard of Oz. I have to imagine you had a blast writing this but it's more than just funny, it's well written. It's not easy to do both. I know you said you weren't sure about this one but let me put your mind at ease. It's fantastic. Funny stories rarely win on Reedsy but this one has a chance. Great job!!!!

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Kristin Neubauer
17:27 May 03, 2021

Awwww - thank you so much, Thom! There are so many more stories on here that are far more worthy of winning than this silly one.....but I appreciate the sentiment! And honestly, knowing it made you laugh out loud is all I need. I hope for my writing to inspire some emotion in the reader and all the better if that emotion is laughter (as long as it was the intended emotion). You know I think so highly of your writing, so these encouraging words from you is plenty of winning for me!

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Thom Brodkin
18:40 May 07, 2021

Hey there, I just posted a story called "The Eulogy." I'm still working on edits but I'd love your opinion and feedback.

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Kristin Neubauer
20:26 May 07, 2021

Yay! A new Thom Brodkin story! I will read it first thing tomorrow. My head is a bit worn out now and I want to make sure I read it when I am clear. I just posted one too: "Among the Shadows, Among the Light" if you can take a look when you have a chance. It's longer than I usually go.

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Thom Brodkin
20:28 May 07, 2021

Longer is better. I too will get to it tonight or tomorrow. Yay!!!!!

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J Sagar
13:43 May 02, 2021

Effortlessly funny!

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Kristin Neubauer
16:52 May 02, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Kristin Neubauer
16:52 May 02, 2021

Thank you so much!

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The Cold Ice
05:44 May 02, 2021

Wonderful story. Keep writing. I loved it. Well written. Would you mind reading my recent story “The book reader”

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Kristin Neubauer
16:39 May 02, 2021

Thank you so much!

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The Cold Ice
08:43 May 03, 2021

Welcome

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